Arts postgrads fail to fulfil career hopes

December 6, 2002

A quarter of arts and humanities postgraduates feel that having a doctorate has failed to help them fulfil their career expectations, research has found.

The first study into the careers of arts and humanities research students has shown that while studying for a non-science PhD develops many skills sought by employers, gaining the qualification often does little to enhance career chances or earning power.

The research, led by Judy Simons, pro vice-chancellor of De Montfort University and chair of the Council of University Deans of Arts and Humanities, found that more than 70 per cent of arts and humanities research students graduating in the past five years had previous careers and were intellectually rather than financially motivated.

Some 40 per cent of those surveyed felt they had increased their academic knowledge and expertise, 24 per cent said having a doctorate had fulfilled their career expectations, while 23 per cent felt unfulfilled.

Although 21 per cent had expected a doctorate to increase their earning potential, 38 per cent felt their salary expectations had been "completely unfulfilled", and 45 per cent of graduates believed that having a doctorate enhanced their salary prospects.

This was despite evidence in the study of a significant increase in salaries for PhD graduates. Comparisons between earnings from employment before and after graduation showed that the percentage that earned salaries of £25,000 and above increased from 6.4 per cent to 35.4 per cent.

The survey found that there was a 68 per cent increase in the number of doctorates awarded in the arts and humanities over the past five years.

In contrast with science doctorates, where research is subsidised, less than a quarter of arts and humanities research students received funding from research councils or boards.

The study found that a significant number of students were mature, including some who had retired from other careers.

The largest occupational groups taking arts and humanities doctorates were higher education lecturers, followed by people from professional and technical jobs.

Some had taken on jobs ranging from restaurant work to road-sweeping as a way of funding themselves before starting their doctorates.

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